Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Character Matters

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Jezebel wasn’t always a prostitute, Mary wasn’t always the mother of God, & Santa has a life beyond Christmas. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/12/29/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-333-theme-exhaustion/

We all transform under the right (or wrong) conditions. Carbon turns to diamonds, water turns to ice, trees turn to paper. A transformative character is more interesting than one who is impervious to change.

Never overly describe a character. Include a few, pertinent details, then allow the readers to use their imaginations to fill in the rest, because nothing slows a story’s momentum than for readers to have to laboriously build a character in their mind according to the writer’s exact specifications.

It’s fine to write a fiction book with an agenda in mind, but never be more passionate about the agenda than the characters.

Authors are no longer limited to one character’s perception when they write from the first-person point-of-view. You can pull a “Picoult” (i.e. Jodi Picoult) with each chapter being told from a different person’s P.O.V. Just make sure the characters you use to tell the stories are equally compelling.

Draw up character profiles, even for short stories. A thoughtful reader will notice if one of your characters has blue eyes at the beginning of the story, & brown eyes at the end.

Every character has habits, or quirks, that make them memorable. The same goes for dialect & certain expressions they use. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/17/quirks-make-a-character/

 

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Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

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The basics of journalism (the 5 W’s & 1 H) apply to fiction, as well. If we don’t know who, we won’t care about the rest.

Write long, & then cut it down. It’s easier to have plenty of material to work with than it is to have to “pad something out” to reach the word count threshold.

It is better to take the time to write a new story than to butcher an existing one to fit in a certain word count.

Your characters don’t have to be realistic, if they are representations of real ideals (such as in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”).

Writing an analysis of your short story can help improve succeeding drafts, enriching it with symbolism (& making sure all the elements make sense).

Writing is an art, editing, a science.

You will learn more from one character in real life than you will in 140 on Twitter.

If you can’t remember the characters’ names in a book, it wasn’t a very good book.

Plot-based books often get read once whereas character-driven novels get read again & again. Character matters.

A minor character can have a significant impact on a major one.

You don’t have to write linearly. If you have a scene in mind that you’d like to go ahead & write, do so. It doesn’t matter how you put the puzzle together, only that it makes sense when it’s finished.

Don’t self-publish until you’ve had your manuscript professionally-edited. Just. Don’t.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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Blogging is a fantastic way to get the word (i.e. your work) out, but it’s easy to be torn between what you should put out there for free & what you should hold dear until it finds a home (because once it’s posted, it’s considered published, & you may never be able to submit it anywhere again). This guide should help: https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/04/15-blogging-prompts/

Twitter, for the most part, is a colossal waste of time. With Twitter, there are too many expectations of reciprocity. You should be so productive creating new content, you don’t have time to reciprocate every like or respond to every comment or thank someone for every retweet; you need actual fans—not just those who follow to get a follow back. Thus, you need readers who aren’t also writers.

Goodreads is great for posting book reviews & connecting with other readers. However, not everyone who follows your blog has a Goodreads account, so post your best reviews on your blog. Get as much mileage as you can out of everything you write. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/06/book-review-the-girl-on-the-train/

Don’t write for LinkedIn on a regular basis unless you write boring, businessy articles/listicles that are largely forgettable. I rarely write articles specifically for LinkedIn, but if something I’ve written is appropriate for the platform, I’ll either post it on LinkedIn Pulse or share it from my blog. There is no such thing as too much visibility. Whatever you do, don’t post part of the article on LinkedIn, & then require people to click on your blog link to read the rest. Rather, post a short bio, including a link to your blog, so that if people liked what they read, they might want to read something else you wrote. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-own-personal-minimalism-sarah-richards-1/?published=t

Seek out guest posting opportunities. Most of them don’t pay, but it’s extra exposure (which is helpful if your blog doesn’t have many followers). There are opportunities to write about writing, life hacks, & parenting. GetConnect Dad is a sweet site to start with, chock full of awesome content from moms & dads around the world. https://getconnectdad.com/write-with-us/

Instagram forces you to become a better photographer—to produce more original content. It’s bright, clean, & minimal—everything Twitter isn’t. https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/

If you’ve ever had any work published in print or online (other than your personal blog), create an online portfolio. A portfolio showcases not just what you know, but what you can do. https://sarahlearichards.journoportfolio.com/

 

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Creative Writing Prompts

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Reimagine fairy tales, turning them into reality tales. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/02/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-338-theme-stained/

If you enjoy writing poetry, but are, at heart, a storyteller, writing a verse novel is a way of satisfying both of those needs. I wrote my novel first, & am now in the process of creating a stand-alone verse book, which will be fashioned into a chapbook to market the novel. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/07/22/fiction-friday-micropoetry-based-on-the-book-2/

What we write doesn’t always have to be created from nothing. You can write about writing (analysis, book review, criticism, et cetera), or you can write about how a piece of cinematic art (especially one that is well-known because others who are fans of that art just might want to read what you have to say about it) made you feel. (And by cinematic art, if it has moved you deeply, it is art.) https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/24/the-american-dream-in-black-&-white-&-living-color/

Write a sequel (perhaps even a grown-up one) to an existing children’s nursery rhyme. You just might create an entire series of flash fiction stories that would work—without the reader even knowing how they came about. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/22/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-21-theme-poem-that-responds-or-somehow-communicates-with-another-poem/

Art imitating life (or something like it) can be as inspirational as life itself. Try imitating the art that imitates life. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/27/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-328-theme-movie-inspired-poem/

An ekphrastic poem is a “vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating & reflecting on the action of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify & expand its meaning.” You already have the big picture (pun intended)—all you must do is fill in the details. Here’s an example: https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/07/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-5-theme-ekphrastic/. Also, rather than write a movie review, write a poem about it. It still requires analysis on a deeper level, & you will be creating a piece of art. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/27/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-328-theme-movie-inspired-poem/

 

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

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You can be a reader without being a writer, but you can’t be a writer without being a reader.

Nothing beats the tags “he said,” “she said.” Anything else can distract from the dialogue, especially adverbs (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/adverb?s=t).
You need never say “he shrugged his shoulders” or “she nodded her head.” “He shrugged” or “she nodded” is sufficient.

The first-person point-of-view is limiting; the third-person point-of-view is limitless.

If you tell your story from too many different points-of-view, you run the risk of readers being more interested in one person’s story than another’s.

Words, to the writer, are like colors to the artist; diction is knowing how to mix them.

Don’t just write what you know, but also what you love.

It’s okay if your novel has the preexisting condition of being terrible. Your insurance is in the editing.

Write every day, even if it’s nothing more than a couplet. (My minimum is 300 words.) Freewriting counts. The water cannot flow until the faucet is turned on.

If you have too many flashbacks, you may have started your story in the wrong place.

Your characters had lives before you chose to write about them, but never feel you must “catch the reader up.” The reader cares about the present, & the past, only insofar as it affects the present.

If you have a family, you have a gift that keeps on giving.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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Blog posts should not be more than 600 words long; the shorter, the better. Even a haiku qualifies as a post. Chances are, the shorter the post, the more likely it is the whole thing will get read. (If you’re not a photographer, Unsplash has many high-quality images you can use, no attribution required.)

Blogging is one of the many ways you can build your author platform. What’s great about it is that you can have it set up to automatically post to other social media sites, such as Facebook & LinkedIn. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/08/12-ways-to-build-your-writers-platform/

Have theme days or regular feature articles. This helps you stay on track, as it’s easier to write a continuing series than a stand-alone piece every single time. This will also help you blog purposefully, rather than simply posting whenever inspiration sparks (which doesn’t come as often as you might think). Serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week (& no less than once), preferably on the same days. Make your own deadlines, & meet them.

Blogging is a terrific way to get instant gratification (i.e. feedback) while still writing for professional publication. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/8-blogging-tips-for-writers-to-find-success

Coming up with categories for your blog will help generate ideas. Mine include Homemaking/Marriage/Motherhood, Food & Recipes, Mormon Culture, etc. One of my personal favorites was Micropoetry Mondays, with each set of micropoems having a theme.  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/08/08/micropoetry-monday-mystery/

Every April & November, I participate in the Writer’s Digest Poem-a-Day Challenges (as well as the Wednesday prompts the other months). I post the answer to the prompt daily on my blog, which gives me time to build up my regular feature posts (Monday’s Sweet Little Nothings & Fiction Fridays). http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-april-pad-challenge-day-4

A blog is a piece of literary sculpture that never dries.

 

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Creative Writing Prompts

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Writing prompts are a wonderful way to break through writer’s block. When I find myself stuck on a piece, I put it away & work on something else. This was one of the most interesting prompts I ever worked through, & my favorite from when I took a college level creative writing course. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/01/18/writing-prompt-the-desert-inside-of-us/

Many of us remember where we were when something big happened. Use that event as a framework to build your narrative. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/08/23/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-407-big-event/

Posts about chocolate are always well-received. Just be sure to package it nicely, like any box of assorted truffles. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/11/19/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-17-theme-ode-to-a-blank-or-blank-is-for-the-birds/
Give your community the “City Confidential” treatment. Like people, places have quirks. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/06/15/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-397-land-of-blank/

If you find yourself stuck, make a list of things that come in sevens (the Seven Wonders of the Modern or Ancient Worlds, the seven dwarves, even the seven years of bad luck you’re supposed to get if you break a mirror) & write a poem (or group of short poems) based on the subject you choose. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/07/the-seven-wonders-of-hannah-an-exercise-in-non-rhyming-poetry/

Pick four related words, & write a riddle poem. Try using the following words: everything, nothing, something, & anything. See what you come up with. (You just might come up with as many different poems as there are Sonic beverage flavors.) https://sarahleastories.com/2017/01/19/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-380-theme-nothing-better/

Childhood memories are some of the most vibrant. Think of something you loved as a child (a toy, a book, a game, et cetera), & write about it. You can make a favorite stuffed animal come to life, write a grown-up follow-up of a beloved book character, or a reimagined backstory of a game. Most importantly, just have fun with it. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/05/01/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-30-theme-bury-the-blank/